China and Japan Intensify Green Car Goals

China will soon overtake America as the world’s biggest car market, and could have 600 million or more cars on its roads in 2050. Despite a lot of talk from China about putting green cars on Chinese roads, hybrids account for only about 0.01 percent of today’s China passenger vehicle sales, according to JD Power & Associates China. That will change if Warren Buffet gets his way.

BYD Co., which is backed by Buffet, is seeking government support for hybrid sales. “We hope the local and central governments will work together to provide subsidies to consumers,” BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu said at an automotive conference in Tianjin yesterday.

BYD is just one of many players in the growing green car scene in China. SAIC is investing $300 million in developing hybrids and electric vehicles, and plans to unveil its first hybrid by the end of next year, followed by a plug-in hybrid and a pure electric car in 2012. Chery will introduce its first plug-in electric car, the S18, next year. Chongqing Changan Automobile Co., China’s fourth-largest automaker, is building a plant with capacity to make as many as 600,000 low-emission and hybrid vehicles a year.

Harbin Hafei Automobile Industry Group, the Chinese automaker that will build California-based Coda Automotive’s electric sedan, due in 2010, signed a deal with a Chinese advanced automotive R&D consortium to jointly produce electric cars for China’s domestic market.

These plans will take time to materialize. Analysts believe it will take a decade or more for China’s hybrid and electric car market to materialize.

Big in Japan

Meanwhile, Japan’s hybrid market is buzzing. In August, the 2010 Toyota Prius was the most popular passenger vehicle for the fourth month in a row. And Japan’s newly elected party is asking that cars get greener in a hurry. Yukio Hatoyama, who leads the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), pledged yesterday to cut Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels. That’s faster than the ousted party’s proposed schedule of cutting emissions 8 percent during the same period.

Japanese automakers said the new goal would be tough. Toyota’s new president, Akio Toyoda, said, “I think it would be hard to meet the DPJ’s midterm target for a cut in greenhouse-gas emissions.” A Toyota executive, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the carmaker will ask the new government to keep tax cuts on purchases of environmental cars in place until the current deadline of March 2012. Subsidies were scheduled to end on March 2010.

“It goes without saying such a target would be difficult to reach,” Honda President Takanobu Ito said at a press conference. He said meeting those targets would require “special projects.” Honda has plans for a number of new small hybrids, but according to Ito, there is not a concrete schedule for a hybrid minivan, despite a Nikkei report that Honda will launch a hybrid version of its small Freed compact minivan—built on a Honda Fit platform—as early as 2011.

DPJ officials mentioned working with nations such as India and China, which have resisted global efforts to reduce emissions levels. The Wall Street Journal reported today that Indian automaker Tata Motors will set up an assembly facility for electric vehicles in the UK, Spain or Norway. The facility to come on line by the end of this year will have the capacity to assemble 5,000 electric cars per year. Tata hopes to bring 2,000 electric cars to Spanish roads by the end of 2010. Analysts believe that more expensive electric cars will be difficult to sell in the Indian car market, which is expected to grow 50-fold by 2050.

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  • Lost Prius to wife

    I can remember back in 2006 that there was much debate whether hybrid batteries would last more than a year or two. I can remember having a discussion where I was told I was nuts for buying a hybrid, that hybrids would be nothing more than an oddity, and would always be less than a fraction of one percent of the car market. And now all the car manufactures are trying to get their hybrids and electric cars out before the end of 2012 and the market share quickly headed for double digits? I am amazed at what has happened in three short years.

  • India

    Nice article. 🙂